Debconf 16 and My Experience with Debian
It has been often said that you should continually try new things in life so that
a. Unlike the fish you do not mistake the pond to be the sea.
b. You see other people, other types and ways of living and being which you normally won’t in your day-to-day existence.
With both of those as mantras I decided to take a leap into the unknown. I was unsure both about the visa process as well as the travel bit as I was traveling to an unknown place and although I had done some research about the place I was unsure about the authenticity of whatever is/was shared on the web.
During the whole journey both to and fro, I couldn’t sleep a wink. The Doha airport is huge. There are 5 Concourses, A, B , C, D, E and around 30+ gates in each Concourse. The ambition of the small state is something to be reckoned with. Almost 95% of the blue workers in the entire airport were of Asian sub-continent. While the Qatari Rial is 19 times stronger to us, the workers I suspect are worse-off than people doing similar things back home. Add to that the sharia law, even for all the money in the world, I wouldn’t want to settle therein.
Anyways, during the journey, a small surprise awaited me, Ritesh Raj Saraff, a DD was also traveling to Debconf. We bumped into each other while going to see the Doha City, courtesy Al-Hamad International Airport. I would probably share a bit more about Doha and my experiences with the city in upcoming posts.
Cut to Cape Town, South Africa, we landed in the city half an hour after our scheduled time and then we sped along to University of Cape Town (UCT) which was to become our home for the next 13 odd days.
The first few days were a whirlwind as there were new people to meet, old people whom I knew only as an e-mail id or an IRC nickname turned out to be real people and you have to try to articulate yourself in English, which is not a native language of mine. During Debcamp I was fortunate to be able visit some of the places and the wiki page had a lot of places which I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete unless I had 15 days unlimited time and money to go around so didn’t even try.
I had gone with few goals in mind :-
a. Do some documentation of the event – In this I failed completely as just the walk from the venue to where the talks were energy-draining for me. Apart from that, you get swept in meeting new people and talking about one of million topics in Debian which interest you or the other person and while they are fulfilling, it is and was both physically and emotionally draining for me (in a good way). Bernelle (one of the organizers) had warned us of this phenomenon but you disregard it as you know you have a limited time-frame in which to meet and greet people and it is all a over-whelming experience.
b. Another goal was to meet my Indian brethren who had left the country around 60~100 years mostly as slaves of East India company – In this I was partially successful. I met a couple of beautiful ladies who had either a father or a mother who was Indian while the other was of African heritage. It seemed in them a yearning to know the culture but from what little they had, only Bollywood and Indian cuisine was what they could make of Indian culture. One of the girls, ummm… women to be more truer, shared a somewhat grim tale. She had both an African boyfriend as well as Indian boyfriend in her life and in both cases, she was rejected by the boy’s parents because she wasn’t pure enough. This was deja vu all over again as the same thing can be seen here happening in casteism so there wasn’t any advice I could give but just nod in empathy. What was sort of relevation was when their parents or grandparents came, the name and surnames were thrown off and the surname was just the place from where they belong. From the discussions it emerged that there were also lot of cases of forced conversions to Christianity during that era as well as temptations of a better life.
As shared, this goal succeeded partially, as I was actually interested in their parents or grand-parents to know the events that shaped the Indian diaspora over there. While the children know only of today, yester-years could only be known by those people who made the unwilling perilous journey to Africa. I had also wanted to know more about Gandhiji’s role in that era but alas, that part of history would have to wait for another day as I guess, both those goals would only have met had I visited Durban but that was not to be.
I had applied for one talk ‘My Experience with Debian’ and one workshop for Installation of Debian on systems. The ‘My Experience with Debian’ was aimed at newbies and I had thought of using show-and-tell to share the differences between proprietary Operating Systems and a FOSS distribution such as Debian. I was going to take simple things such as changelogs, apt-listbugs, real-time knowledge of updates and upgrades as well as /etc/apt/sources.list to share both the versatility of the Debian desktop and real improvements than what proprietary Operating Systems had to offer. But I found myself engaging with Debian Developers (DD’s) rather than the newbies so had to change the orientation and fundamentals of the talk on the fly. I knew or suspected rather that the old idea would not work as it would just be repeating to the choir. With that in the back of mind, and the idea that perhaps they would not be so aware of the politics and events which happened in India over the last couple of decades, I tried to share what little I was able to recollect what little I was able to remember about those times. Apart from that, I was also highly conscious that I had been given just the before lunch slot aka ‘You are in the way of my lunch’ slot. So I knew I had to speak my piece as quickly as possible being as clear as can be. Later, I did get feedback that I was fast and seeing it through couple of times, do agree that I could have done a better job. What’s done is done and the only thing I could do to salvage it a bit is to make a presentation which I am sharing as below.
Would be nice if somebody could come up with a lighter template for presentations. For reference the template I have taken it from is shared at https://wiki.debian.org/Presentations . Some pictures from the presentation.
You can find the video at http://meetings-archive.debian.net/pub/debian-meetings/2016/debconf16/My_Experience_with_Debian.webm
This is by no means the end of the Debconf16 experience, but actually the starting. I hope to share more of my thoughts, ideas and get as much feedback from all the wonderful people I met during Debconf.